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True Cross. How did St. Helena found the Cross?

Emperor Constantine knew that by the power of the Holy Cross he would be victorious. Ordered that the Holy Cross be present on the shields, helmets and flags of his soldiers. After his victory, the emperor decided with his mother, Helen, to go in search of the Holy Cross on which Christ was crucified.

The discovery of the Holy Cross on which the Saviour was crucified is linked to the miracle of the sign of the Holy Cross and the words “By this, you shall overcome” appearing in the sky at high noon on the eve of the battle of October 312. Between Constantine the Great and Maxentius at Pons Milvus (near Rome).

In 326 he arrived in Jerusalem and destroyed the temple of Venus and the statue of Jupiter. Erected by Emperor Hadrian over the Holy Sepulchre. The excavations uncovered three crosses, those of the two thalers and the one on which Christ was crucified.

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What is the True Cross?

Contrary to popular belief, in Europe, more specifically in Italy, many centuries before our era. Today, this practice has spread to all Christians around the world.

Arguably, the best known religious symbol in the history of the world is the True Cross, and indeed, it is the very symbol of Christianity where we find it. Almost everywhere, especially on tombstones and at the entrance to cemeteries. More recently, we also see the cross worn as jewellery or tattoos as a symbol of belonging to the Christian religion or simply because it is fashionable.

The cross is present in places of worship such as churches, temples and cathedrals. In the Christian religion, its main meaning refers to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, this symbol did not appear among Christians until three centuries after the Saviour’s death.

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What does The True Cross symbolize?

We will refer to the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, according to the Christian religion. In 326, during a pilgrimage to Palestine, Saint Helena, the Roman Empress, who was to become the mother of Emperor Constantine, discovered the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.

According to Orthodoxy, “by its uprightness, the Cross signifies the link between heaven and earth, the aspiration to the highest, the uprightness of life illumined by faith. Its horizontal side signifies the all-embracing embrace of the world through hierarchical love, the calling, and gathering of all around the holy axis that leads to Heaven”.

The event was decisive for the Christian religion because the Cross of Christ was for them the saving symbol of humanity since Jesus Christ would have saved people from so-called original sin. For early Christians, the cross is a three-dimensional representation of God the Father, his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Although at the time Christians used it relatively sparingly.

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What happened to the True Cross?

Since 333, pilgrims have gathered from all over Europe to approach the cross. Abducted by the Persians in 614, and recovered by the Byzantines in 628, it returned to Jerusalem. It triggered the first crusade in 1099 that saw the knights of Pope Urban II wrest it from the Muslims, who had ruled the city since the late 7th century.

According to biblical sources, in Constantinople, the remaining fragments of the True Cross were then sold by the Latin emperors of the East in the mid-13th century to Western sovereigns such as Louis IX, who housed them in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

Taken over by Saladin in 1187, it then sat on the dome of the Rock before disappearing.

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Did Saint Helena discover the Holy Cross?

Eusebius emphasized in his account the religious activity of Elena, portrayed as a religious person: Constantine’s mother prays where she knows that Jesus’ feet have touched the ground, cares for the poor, does acts of charity and builds many churches in the area.

In addition to her benefactions and involvement with the poor, St Helena is recognised by Christians as the discoverer of the Holy Cross.

A temple to Aphrodite had been erected by Emperor Hadrian on Golgotha Hill to hide the site of Christ’s suffering, but the Saint ordered the statue destroyed and removed the earth covering Jesus’ tomb and the three crosses, one of which was Jesus’ and the other two belonging to the thieves who were crucified with him.

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Who was Saint Helena?

Procopius mentions in “De Aedificilis Libri” that the name change was made because it is the birthplace of Saint Helena. As for the year of his birth, it seems that it would have been 248/9, calculated according to the account of Eusebius (Vita Constantini, 3.46), who states the year of his death as 328/9 and that he would have lived 80 years.

Flavia Julia Helena was the mother of the famous emperor Constantine. Saint Helena was of lower social background. Ambrose calls her stabularia, and Eutropius mentions that she was born ex obscuriore Matrimonio. Philostorgius (Historia Ecclesiastica, 2.16) calls her “a common woman”. Constantius I Chlorus and Helena are thought to have met in Drepanum around 270, but there are no reliable sources to support this.

But the historical chronicles do not entirely agree. Byzantinist Cyril Mango has argued that Helenopolis was restored to strengthen the communication network around its new capital of Constantinople, and it was known that this city was built in honour of Helena, but not necessarily her birthplace. There is another Helionopolis in Palestine; its exact location is unknown, but the name probably also comes from the historical influence of Constantine’s mother.

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Key Verse related to The True Cross

“The Cross is the lightning rod of grace that short-circuited God’s wrath to Christ so that only the light of His love remains for believers.”
True Cross.

Where did St. Helena find the cross of Jesus?

On May 3, 326, men were busy working at an excavation site at Calvary. A hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus, according to the Gospels, was crucified. Among them, the silhouette of a woman emerges. Covered in a red toga, she gazes out over the city, a vast field of ruins. Surrounding it are the remains of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who two centuries earlier had destroyed the city in a Jewish revolt.

In the 4th century, the Roman Empress Helena, a convert to Christianity, found what she believed to be the cross of Christ under the rubble of Jerusalem, more exactly behind the Temple of Venus. A ‘discovery’ that would change the fate of the city.

One of the men runs to St Helena. The noble-looking woman walks toward the monument. On one of these Latin crosses, lying on the ground, she notices an inscription reading ‘Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum’, or ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’.

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How did St. Helena know where the cross of Jesus was?

At the beginning of the reign of St. Constantine the Great (306-337), the first Roman emperor to recognise the Christian faith, he and his faithful mother St. Helena decided to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. They made a plan to erect a church on the site of the Lord’s passion and resurrection to sanctify once again the places associated with the death and resurrection of the Saviour and to remove the pagan defilement from the holy places.

In her search for the Life-Giving Cross, the Empress investigated several Christians and Jews, finding nothing for some time. Finally, an old Jewish man named Judah told her that the cross was buried behind the Temple of Venus. After arriving in Jerusalem, the Empress began to tear down all the pagan temples and sanctify the places defiled by the pagans.

Soon they found Golgotha and the Lord’s tomb. Not far from that place they found three crosses, a tablet with Pilate’s inscription (John 19:19) and four spikes piercing the Lord’s body.

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How did Helen find out what the cross of Jesus was?

But it is possible that St Helena’s expedition to the East was also a political act of appeasement. People in the east may have been unhappy with Constantine’s radical religious reforms; replacing old officials with Christian representatives and suppressing local pagan cults were not easy changes to accept.

According to historians, to find out which is the cross on which the Son of God was crucified, Saint Helena asked someone to lay down all the crosses. And at the moment of touching one of the crosses, the man was resurrected. This was undeniable proof that this was the cross of Christ.

The precious cross was immediately lifted by St. Macarius, and when people saw it, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy!”. After this discovery, part of the cross was sent to Constantinople as a blessing. And the rest remained in Jerusalem in the church that was built by Saint Helena herself.

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Where did the event of finding the Holy Cross take place?

Patriarch Macarius, seeing a dead man being carried to the grave, asked that the man be placed one by one on each of the crosses. With great joy, Empress Helena and Patriarch Macarius raised the Cross so that all present could see it.

The places where all these mysteries and the event of finding the Holy Cross took place are all under the same dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. And the rock of Golgotha, along a corridor bordered by arches built by the Crusaders. On the site of the old Byzantine church of the time of the Holy Emperors Constantine and Helen.

It is certain that the echoes of that day – 14 September 335 – have passed through the centuries. And today the ‘Ascension of the Holy Cross is one of the great feasts of Christianity.

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Where was the wood for the Holy Cross extracted from?

Only 4 miles east of the old city of Jerusalem, in a valley called in Hebrew Emeq HaMatzlevah. There is a very old monastery called the Monastery of the Holy Cross or in Arabic Derelem Mussalaben. It was built on the site where the wood was taken to build the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

About the tree from which the wood for the True Cross was taken, the ecclesiastical tradition, as well as a very old Syriac manuscript, records that the story begins in the time of the Patriarch Abraham and is linked to the appearance of the Holy Trinity in the form of angels at Mamvri. The tradition says that the Angels left Abraham on three voyages. (According to others three assorted seeds) Before they departed for Sodom. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah followed.

After others by Emperor Justinian (527-565), and after others by Emperor Heraclius (610-641), who after his return from Persia in 628 would have set up his army camp here, bringing with him the wood of the Holy Cross to place it on Calvary. So he decided to build a monastery on the spot where he had landed, in honour of the Holy Cross. According to existing documents we can say with certainty that this monastery existed at the beginning of the Byzantine period.

Was the True Cross taken as a prize of war?

The history of the Holy Cross, after the event mentioned above, is however a troubled one. Many dates do not agree, and it is very difficult to establish the exact truth.

Catholic sources maintain that, after almost three centuries, in 615, the coffin with the wood of the Holy Cross was taken as a spoil of war by the Persians who invaded and conquered Jerusalem, under the leadership of Cossack Parvis. And taken to Ctesiphon. After 14 years, Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium brought it back to Jerusalem. And in 629 he laid it in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with great honour. On 14 September 630, Patriarch Zacharias raised it in the sight of the faithful.

In 634-635, the wood of the Holy Cross was brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople (and back) in a solemn procession, the memory of which is preserved to this day in the Byzantine cult of the feast of 14 September.

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Primary Takeaways

  • After the return of the Holy Cross from the Persians, Patriarch Zacharias will also raise it on 14 September 630 in the sight of the faithful.
  • In 312, and memory of the discovery of the wood of the Cross in Jerusalem. The day after the consecration of the Resurrection church that St. Helena had erected over the Holy Sepulchre.
  • In addition to the Raising of the True Cross, celebrated on 14 September, the Feast of the Taking Up of the Holy Cross is celebrated on 1 August. A feast which originates from an older tradition of the Church in Constantinople. On this date, a piece of the wood of the Holy Cross was taken out of the paraclete’s palace and carried to the Church of St. Sophia with a choir and a festive procession. 

Conclusion

Celebrated on 21 May with her son, St Helena is known. And venerated for the discovery of the Holy Cross on Golgotha Hill. As well as for the erection of numerous churches in Palestine, Cyprus and the West. It was his son, Constantine the Great, who established the freedom of Christianity through the Edict of Milan. Which made Christianity the official religion of the Empire.

Although born as a ‘common woman’, Emperor Constantine’s mother was to become one of the most important figures of his time during his lifetime. Marking her historical presence with the coins and inscriptions of the time bearing her face and name.

Thank you for your attention, and your appreciation. Have a good day!

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Bibliography

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  • Drijvers, J. W. (2000). Therefore Evelyn Waugh, Helena and the True Cross. So Classics Ireland7, 25-50.
  • Pohlsander, H. A. (2004). So Helena, Heraclius, and the True Cross. So Quidditas25(1), 5.
  • Teteriatnikov, N. (1995). Also The true Cross Flanked by Constantine and Helena. Therefore A Study in the Light of the post-iconoclastic re-evaluation of the cross. So Deltion tes Christianikes Archaiologikes Hetaireias18, 169-188.
  • So Zieper, L. (1975). Therefore Helena Nostra: So Saint Helena in Britain